We are all judgmental, well, maybe not all of us, but I certainly am. Then I realized my own hypocrisy and felt the need to analyze the shit out of it, and here we are….
How I Recognized My Own Double Standard
I’ll admit, I cringe when hear of relationships where one party (usually the man) is significantly older than the other party. Hell, I remember teasing the shit out of a friend when we learned his new girlfriend (now wife) had just turned 22 – he was almost 30. Although most of it was in jest, there was some seriousness too it, he was pretty flakey on plans and habitually late, I am not entirely sure he would have found a woman the same age who would put up with his shit. So yeah, I was judgy….
This, despite the fact that when I look for FWB/NSA relationships outside of my marriage, I am generally attracted to men ten years my junior. I rationalized that it was different because I was just looking for casual (sexual) relationships, not long-term romantic partners; I believed that I would only be interested in a long-term partnership with someone of similar age.
Well, I have never been interested in older men, even when I was a teenager, I dated someone the same age as me. But somehow, I have ended up in a very serious, long-distance, D/s relationship with a man twelve years older than me.
Fuck, it is definitely time to re-evaluate my views on age-gap relationships.
Why We Judge
So many of us judge these types of relationships, but why? Well, first, there is only really harsh judgement when the younger party is quite young, teenager or young adult. While some people may make some initial judgement about my lover being twelve years older, no one assumes he is manipulating or abusing me because I am well into adulthood myself; and at this point, what is a decade?
To be fair, manipulation and abuse in age-gap are much more likely to happen while someone is young, but the media doesn’t help. The media sensationalizes cases where there was been clear abuse – think trafficking and prostitution. We, as viewers, then start to believe this is the norm, therefore, all relationships involving a large age-gap have some level of coercion and abuse. This clearly isn’t true, think about your own life. I would wager that everyone knows someone who has been in a healthy, functional relationship with a large age-gap.
I also believe that when people hear of a large age-gap in a relationship they time travel to make judgement. People sometimes comment that my lover was 28 when I was 16 and that’s weird. IS it though? I didn’t know him when I was 16, and I sure wasn’t fucking him then! But even if we were together then, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he would have been manipulating me.
Or, he was 20 when you were 8! Yup, 12 years… but he isn’t interested in fucking pre-pubescent children! How the fuck is that relevant???
Lastly, our culture has a victim complex. We label people victims after the fact.
A perfectly happy 35 year old woman can recount a neutral experience of dating an older man (for simplicity, let’s say she was 16 and he was 25). She can believe that the relationship was a positive one and that he empowered her in numerous ways, and that the split was amicable simply because they grew apart as she transitioned into adulthood.
She will be told over and over again that this man was manipulative and abuse towards her, that no 25 year old man would want to date a child. He was grooming her. Eventually, she will start to second guess herself; maybe he was manipulative. Why would a 25 year old date a 16 year old? Maybe she was taken advantage of…?
By the time she is 40, the narrative has changed and when she recalls this relationship she talks about how her ex-boyfriend was a predator and manipulated her into a sexual relationship against her will, and that she hopes that he didn’t traumatize other young girls.
What the fuck happened here? A story of empowerment gets turned into a story of victimization. As a society we need to stop labelling people as victims, if they don’t see themselves that way, it just causes trauma after the fact.
So, can age-gap relationships be manipulative and exploitive. Yes, absolutely! But so can any relationship.
Are these types of relationships higher risk for manipulation and abuse. Maybe, it is definitely something to be aware of.
My lover and I have spoken in depth about the age-gap, largely in the sense that we like to imagine what life would have looked like if we met years ago and had become each others primary partner. Thirteen years ago, we were both at crossroads in our lives. I had just gotten divorced from my ex-husband and he had moved back to his home country to start a new career. Theoretically, if we had met at this point the stars would have aligned and we could have started a relationship.
However, it never would have worked. At 23 I was already established in my career and owned my own home, I would not have had any interest in a 35 year old man who didn’t have his shit together. And he, would not have been interested in a near child with no life experience, I would have been too young for him to consider a serious relationship with.
But now? None of that matters.